Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Saving Billy's Life - Free Excerpt for "My Cat Died"

Keeping Billy Alive

Dread settled around me when the young resident veterinarian led Deborah and me into a room larger and, in some odd way, more somber than the examining rooms we were used to. We were already sad about Billy’s being so sick. This felt sadder.

Billy was our senior citizen, a black cat in his seventeenth year with us. Chronic illnesses made worse by time, two operations and races to the emergency room had made us more familiar with the Animal Medical Center’s facilities than we ever wanted to be.

Two years ago, a critical situation badly handled and maybe caused by his regular vet forced me to race through an Upper East Side rush hour to get him into triage. Since, discovering and then alleviating a condition that put Billy in crisis too often, surgeons at AMC operated twice, both times successfully. Now, a feared follow up problem, a severe urinary tract infection, a UTI, delivered the worst risks we’d been warned about from his last surgery.

Billy’s biggest threat, the vet told us, was chronic kidney disease. It unleashed a multitude of related problems throughout his system, the most immediate being anemia brought on by his inability to produce enough red blood cells The only thing resembling a cure was a kidney transplant. The estimated cost, $50,000, was staggering, but more important, the threat to Billy’s enjoyment of life at sixteen outweighed the uncertain benefits. The traumas he would have to go through for a short life extension, with no guarantee even of survival, seemed as threatening as the illness. Stress alone could kill him.

Before going over other options, I told the vet as clearly as I could that our only criteria for decisions was Billy’s quality of life. As long as he was able enjoy himself, as long as he showed enthusiasm for his food, for exploring our home, for being cuddled and played with, and retained his distinct personality, there were no limits on what we were willing to do to help him.

“We’re not rich, but he’s family. As long as he’s enjoying his life, we aren’t going to let money decide anything.”

What went unsaid was our mutual awareness that Billy showed no signs of wanting to do anything but fight back and return to doing his own, unusual cat thing. His demeanor told us he was far from throwing in the towel.

“Billy’s a fighter,” we’d hear from his vets many times in the coming months. That he was.

Besides, you can’t put a price tag on a life, each of which is a miracle of complexity and natural design.

Our values may not be what the vets at AMC heard all the time, but the smile that lit the doctor’s face told us he valued Billy’s life as much as we did.

Making that statement clearly was important because the second alternative we heard about, after the transplant, was “a humane solution,” that is, ending Billy’s life now, chemically and painlessly. But the reason: “You may feel you’ve already spent a lot of money on medical expenses, and the best we can offer now is an extension, maybe just a few weeks, not a cure,” wasn’t a good one for us.

Lives, ours, our family’s, our animal friends’, were not on a budget.

Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cats in New York City / Arthur Avenue, Bronx

Arthur Avenue, The Bronx

This is a free chapter from Travels with George: New York, a story about the cats' visit to New York's real Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in The Bronx.

One day, they put Billy and me in our carriers in the back seat of the car.

“Sorry, boys,” the man said when he was getting out our carriers, “but there’s no good way to take you there on the subway.”

From Travels with George: New York
“There” was Arthur Avenue, what our people kept calling “the real Little Italy.”

Although I tried not to let Billy know, I was a little worried – “Bronx” sounded to me like a place full of dogs. Most dogs are okay, but in a big bunch, like at the shelter where I stayed before she brought me home, there was always at least one bad dog barking and jumping at the cats, and his friends always went along with him. It was about the only time I liked being inside a cage. The barking and growling dogs could not get in.

We don’t take rides in the car often. I can’t remember one other time when it wasn’t for taking us to the vet. I don’t like the car. We’re jailed in our carriers, not allowed to look around and check the new smells that come to us through the bars.

The man drove, and she turned back to wiggle her fingers inside the carriers. 

“We’ll be there soon,” she promised.

Not soon enough, I thought, but it was still better than staying alone at home. We still had this economy to thank for that.

“You get a ticket from the meter. I’ll find us a spot.”

We were finally in the The Bronx, and I hadn’t heard or smelled a single dog. 

“George, Billy, you guys can walk for a little while here, if you want. There might be some big feet around, so be careful. We’ll bring your bags. We can pick you up if it gets dangerous. 

I liked Arthur Avenue right away. The smells were richer, and all the cars and people were slower. I noticed that the buildings were smaller, and more sun leaked through the trees to shine on us. Along the sidewalks, there were tiny gardens with green plants that smelled like things the woman brought home in bags for the kitchen. 

Our people changed here too. They let Billy and me walk right into the tiny gardens and smell the dirt and plants. 

“Just don’t eat anything, Billy,” the man warned. “People won’t like you eating their herbs.”

“Gow,” Billy mewed, but for once, he did as he was told. 

“Next block, we’ll stop for lunch. They have a courtyard in back. It’s such a nice day, we can eat outside, and they won’t mind if we bring you with us. You can have something too, okay?”

She didn’t wait for an answer, but there was too much to consider anyway, especially not knowing what a “courtyard” was. Eating outside had been good so far, though.

On Arthur Avenue, we didn’t have to hide under a table by the sidewalk like we did when they ate Turkish food. Now, we went inside and through a dark passageway before they carried us out into a sunny place with walls all around and no traffic from cars, trucks or buses.

This must be a “courtyard.” It was quiet and sunny with lots of interesting shadows.

“Okay if we let the cats out under the table?”

“Okay with us, if it’s okay with them,” an unfamiliar voice said. “You brought your cats for lunch?”

“They don’t get out much,” our man said. “So, we decided to let them have a vacation, too.”

“Molto bene. Your menus.”

“That went pretty well,” the woman said. “I didn’t want to get stuck with takeout, not on Arthur Avenue.”

“Italians love cats,” the man said. “They were all over the place in Rome and Florence."

“Everybody loves cats,” she corrected him.

She gave me a rub when she let me out.

“Stay under there now, you guys. No trouble.”

After we had some water, it was a perfect time to doze off. We were in the cool shade, but a nice slice of sunlight lit the floor beside me. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. 

When I woke up, I saw that Billy was already awake and sitting in the sun beside the table. His black fur was shiny and warm. No grass to eat in sight, he was happily absorbing the courtyard. Other groups of people without cats were eating. The shadows and light mixed with tasty aromas. It was easy to see what our people liked about being here. 

They walked us back out to the street. The sounds and smells of the city rushed back. I hesitated a little, to adjust. It was nicer and quieter than the places they took us on the subway where it was usually too dangerous to walk.

We went in and out of stores, and nobody seemed to mind. It was unusual too because the people, including ours, were too busy to make a fuss over cats. In one place that the woman called “a cheese shop,” we even saw another cat that nobody was bothering with. He was watching from the top of a counter, guarding his territory. He blinked at us.

He also seemed to be guarding some cheese, but he let our people have some. Billy and I both asked to share. It smelled so good. 

“We’ll save some for you,” the woman promised but they can’t let you eat here. We’d all get in
Travels with George: New York & Paris

The Arthur Avenue shop cat blinked at us as we left. He seemed nice. But we had to go and buy, “the best vegetables I’ve seen all year.”

The kept filling up bags at every stop. I was keeping track, trying to learn new things. After the vegetables, we got “pastries” and fresh bread. 

“Look at this fresh pasta,” the woman said. “We have to get some and have it tonight. It’ll be wonderful to eat at home, even if we’re on vacation.”

The fish store made me swoon. It was my favorite stop. There were so many smells filling and blending in the air, it felt like being in the water. Billy looked like he’d just swallowed a handful of catnip.

Story by David Stone
Illustrations by Deborah Julian

Monday, January 11, 2016

Travels with George: Paris / Free Chapter


Paris is a sample chapter: Travels with George: Paris, an illustrated book told by a cat about smuggle his way to Paris and touring the sites.

Author: David Stone
Illustrations: Deborah Julian

“This is funny,” he says, flipping the pages of a book he has open in his lap.

Travels with George: Paris
Both of them have calmed down considerably.

“What’s funny?” she asks.

She is going from place to place in our little room, taking things out of bags, familiar things
that remind us all of home. She stopped to tickle Billy and me without looking at us and paused to scratch her head. She could use a stretch, I sense.

I am sitting on the bed behind the man, somewhat confident that he will not forget and lean back on me, but not confident enough to sleep, and Billy is wandering around, building a scent map– a big, big task in such a new place. I made a general one earlier, then decided I was not quite up to it yet. 

Those tasks could wait until things settled a little more.

After the shock wore off and they stopped saying, “I can’t believe it,” all the time, they got organized and, realizing we needed attention, went right at it.

“First of all, we’ll need to get some litter,” he announced. “That’s got to be pretty urgent.

A grand idea, I thought, instantly.

“I think they’ll use it as soon as we can get some in here.”

“Well, really, the first thing they need is fresh water, poor babies,” she corrects him. “You
must be so thirsty,” she adds in that special, musical voice we hear sometimes before we get special treats. “I can’t even find anything for them to drink out of.”

“Mow?” Billy says, agreeing with me, I believe, that water is an even better idea.

“We’ll get both for you, guys,” the man promises. “You’re so brave. And we’d better do it right now.”

“Okay,” she agrees. “Where’s the nearest pet store?”

“Very funny.”

He shakes his head and smiles.

“I’ll tell you what, let’s not ask for directions at the front desk. The question might make
them a little curious. We’re also going to have to figure out how to hide these guys for a week. We’ve got quite a little dilemma.”
He looks back at us from the door.

“Bye, little guys, we’ll be right back! Probably.”

“No ‘probably,’” she corrects him. “We’ll be right back with some stuff for you. Don’t scare
the boys.”

Hide them? Hide who? I glance at Billy, already beginning to panic as the door starts to
close. He could not mean us. Hide cats? Back home, when certain people came to see us, the visitors got hidden away behind closed doors where a cat was not permitted to visit, but I had never heard of hiding cats. Yet, who else could they have been talking about?

Too much mystery for me. Eventually, in my experience, these people things either explain themselves or they just go away. Everything does not have to have a reason with them. I decide to wait and see and not worry too much about it.

“Bye, sweeties!” she sings. “Don’t look so worried. We’ll be right back!”

David Stone
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page
Deborah Julian's artwork can be found in her Amazon shop.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Large Wooden Keepsake/Memory Boxes

Wooden Keepsake Boxes for Cat Lovers

Hand-Decorated Cat Keepsake Boxes

Check out the Newest Designs
Check out the Newest Designs

Wooden Cat Keepsake Boxes, Gifts They Keep

I like gifts that will be remembered,appreciated every day. How about you? Keepsake boxes, handmade and hand-decorated, fit the bill as gift, memory and treasure boxes as useful as well as beautiful.
Practical and decorative, handmade, hand-decorated keepsake boxes may be what you're looking for.In our house, they do do several things. In our bedroom, keepsake boxes hold mementoes and jewelry.
Two on living room tables don't store anything. They're just there because they look nice. Handmade, hand-decorated boxes are unique and original, one of a kind art that can fit any taste.
On websites like Etsy, communities of handmade artists join together to show off their work.
Their reach goes beyond the web to pop-up stores and open air markets where they set up shop under tents in fair weather.
The thing about handmade and hand-decorated is that, in the way they are created, no two items are exactly the same. Not only is the artist free to tweak her design every time, but simple changes in conditions, like the texture of the materials used, will cause the end products to be a little different each time.
Below, you'll see memory keepsake boxes that go from trinket boxes that resemble old Volkswagon buses to others that depend on individual works of art for decoration.
Everything is original and unique, not one exactly like any other.
Billy's Jump Keepsake Box / © Deborah Julian

#1 Handmade Keepsake Boxes Decorated With Cat Art

From Cat Artist Deborah Julian

Deborah Julian takes a step aside from the ordinary with her handmade keepsake boxes decorated with cat art. (See this and all of her other handmade designs on Deborah Julian's Keepsake Box Board on Pinterest.)
In this first example, a black cat strikes a classic pose in a dazzling background.
in Billy's Jump, popular with black cat lovers, this one's often given as a gift or kept as a special memory box.
East River Tugboat Keepsake Box
Tugboat- East River / © Deborah Julian

#2 New York Souvenir Keepsake Box - East River Tugboat

Among her most popular prints of New York, Deborah Julian creates the painter-like image of a tugboat powering its way down the East River in New York.
The colorful composition is almost dreamlike. Its artfulness made it right for a keepsake box, as a souvenir or memory of New York.

Handle With Care Wooden Keepsake Box

#3 Handmade Keepsake Boxes From Cat Art

In a second example from Deborah Julian's cat art design, a keepsake box carries a gentle message of friendship and compassion.
Handle With Care is a wooden box with a message.

Cézanne's Cats

Cezanne's Cats Keepsake Box - Click here for details.
Cezanne's Cats Keepsake Box / © Deborah Julian

#4 Handmade Keepsake Boxes From Cat Art

Degas' Cat In A Hat Shop takes an artsy (and humorous) turn as a curious cat finds the ribbons used in hat-making irresistible.
Inspired by Edgar Degas' Millinery Shop, the added cat adds humor and moves it to cat art.
Walk Walk, Keepsake Box,  New York, Deborah Julian Art
Walk Walk, Keepsake Box / © Deborah Julian

Walk Walk, A Keepsake Box From The City Streets

An Image of Manhattan

Walk Walk is one of the prints of New York that reminds us of the exhilarating experience of finding our way along the streets of Manhattan.
If New York is a melting pot, then it all gets stirred in Midtown with directions nobody can follow.

Memory Keepsake Boxes - The sheer number of options is amazing.

EXP Handmade 11-Inch Yellow Leather 3-Drawer Chinese Bird Jewelry Box with Fold Out Mirror
EXP Handmade 11-Inch Yellow Leather 3-Drawer Chinese Bird Jewelry Box with Fold Out Mirror
This keepsake box is an antique, solid look and feel. It looks like it can protect anything.

Ideas With A Twist In Handmade Keepsake Boxes - Looking for something different and memorable?

Try these. It's a group that tries to be different.

Handcrafted Rangoli Toppers/Keepsake Boxes
Handcrafted Rangoli Toppers/Keepsake Boxes
Rangoli is Indian folk art used to decorate floors, etc. during Hindu festivals, honored here on a keepsake box.

Heart Shaped Polish Ring Box
Heart Shaped Polish Ring Box
What significant rings would you keep in this beautiful box?

Objet D'Art Release #107 "The Love Bus" 1960's VW Surf Bus Handmade Jeweled Enameled Metal Trinket Box
Objet D'Art Release #107 "The Love Bus" 1960's VW Surf Bus Handmade Jeweled Enameled Metal Trinket Box
This one's right off the wall, an art object from the crazy 1960s for storing keepsakes and memories.

Red Handmade Jewelry Box in Lac
Red Handmade Jewelry Box in Lac
Otherwise, standard in shape, the intricate red design catches your attention from across the room. Great decor accessory.

Handcrafted Rangoli Toppers/Keepsake Boxes
Handcrafted Rangoli Toppers/Keepsake Boxes
More Indian folk art from the sacred Hindu traditions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cat in Times Square

George in Times Square / © Deborah Julian

Traveling with George in New York City

Of course, I was aware as you would be that a cat's reaction would be different than mine. Until George walked into Times Square on a leash and told us about it, it wasn't as dramatic. 

In the illustrated cat books, Travels with George - which I was lucky enough to transcribe for him, having the advantage of fingers and prehensile thumbs - he shares what it was like to visit Paris and New York City with his human tour guides.

His friend, Billy, a black cat, comes along for the the ride.

The trip to France happened first. It was accidental. George sneaked into luggage because he hated the idea of being left behind with cat sitters.

He did not know what a "Paris" was. By the time he returned to America, he acquired the same passion for travel many of us in the other species have.

When costs convinced his people that a "staycation" made the most sense when vacation time came around again, the New York he'd only glimpsed from this apartment window grew much larger and more real.

Getting Around the Big Apple

Because he wouldn't know where to begin or what to look for in the city, George got to see the places people want to see. He enjoyed Central Park the most, with all the grass and trees. Less noise and crowding let him savor the smells and revel in the feel of grass beneath his paws.

At Conservatory Water, he and Billy discovered a duckling piloting a boat.

After lunch, they lounged in a rowboat, recalling their first boat ride on the Seine.

The rest of New York City had his brain racing, trying to take it all in and understand. It was exciting, sometimes too exciting.

A Stroll Down 42nd Street

Cats and Library Lion / © Deborah Julian
On the day George and Billy ended up in Times Square, they were taken on the subway to 42nd Street.

The NYC Subway was not George or Billy's favorite adventure.

Oh, it was filled with smells, a cat's most trustworthy guides, but they were strange.

"Look at that," one of his human escorts said, "he's thrilled when you open a can of smelly fish, but the subway station, yuck!"

"I'm with him," the woman answered.

And it wasn't just the smells. George hated the noise too. It was louder and screechier than anything he'd heard before.

Soon, he found himself being humanlike, impatient for the next subway train to arrive and get him out of there.

Hurrying up the steps on 42nd Street, he was relieved to see sunlight again. It was  noisy still, but not as much, and the smells were nothing to rejoice about. But after a trip through the underground, it was almost a rose garden.

Billy saw the lions guarding the entrance to the New York Public Library. He jumped on a chair and looked at the giant. Unable to resist the highest available point, George got all the push he could from his hind legs, making the leap from tabletop to lion on his first try.

A safe distance made people watching enjoyable. George surveyed the scene from atop a lion while Billy, as he so often did, looked on with envy.

Another Day Another Park

Cats on a Carousel in Bryant Park, New York
City © Deborah Julian
Finally persuade to dismount the ferocious lion guarding the New York Public Library, their people walked them a short distance to a surprising park tucked in between towering buildings behind the library. 

They found a shady spot on the lawn, and his people got out the water and plastic bowls. Everyone had a good drink. George and Billy took catnaps while the people did what they seemed to have a bottomless appetite for: they talked.

George always found waking up easier than Billy did, easing from there to here with barely a stutter.

Billy, on the other hand, staggered along behind with the woman while they made their way to the merry-go-round. 

"How would you guys like to try this?" the man asked.

George blinked, confused by the question. Try what?

"Come on. It'll be fun."

"You taking those cats on the ride?" an unfamiliar woman asked when they approached the carousel.

"Yes," the man said. "We think they'll like it."

"No rule says you can't," she conceded.

Soon, Billy was settled enough to consider a nap beside George on a brightly colored, upholstered bench.

"I think getting on a horse might be too much," George's woman said, giving his chin a stroke.

She seemed to think his climbing up on a lion, the king of beasts and his ancestor, meant he might want to ride a horse. But no, the bench was soft, and the carousel was full of colors.

Then, it began to turn. Twisting to orient himself to this strange experience, George discovered something shocking: a very large cat bobbing up and down behind him, with a saddle.

End of a Long Day in New York City

After eating some snacks and relaxing in Bryant Park, appreciating how far the buildings reached into the sky, George noticed it was getting dark.

"Wait until you see this," the man teased. "Nothing else like Times Square, anywhere else in the world."

But George felt an increasing fear as they walked the next block. Maybe it had been too long a day, or maybe he would never be prepared for the flood, the rush of lights, sound and movement that came over him like a kind of avalanche.

Suddenly, colors began flashing overhead, beaming off the walls. Boom-boom noises meshed with people's voice as if every human in the world was talking at once to penetrate the explosions. Cars and people and lights on the walls raced in every direction at the same time.

"Oh, dear, Times Square seems like a little too much for Georgie," the woman said. 

She picked him up and embraced him protectively.

"We better catch a cab from here."

And so, rescued, George and Billy's day in New York ended with a cab ride whisking them from the insanity of Times Square to the comfort of home.

"Maybe we'll try Times Square again when you're more rested," the man said.

But the woman gave him a look.

"I don't think so," she said.

And neither did George.

George and Billy invite you to check out their books and pictures from their travels by clicking here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pierre Bonnard Cats, an Impressionist Afternoon

After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard / © Deborah Julian

Pierre Bonnard Cats

French impressionist Pierre Bonnard didn't paint many cats, at least not as many among his canvases as I'd have liked.

Bonnard is one of my favorites. So are cats. I wish they'd gotten together more often.

Bonnard's artwork is enhanced by his practice of taking photographs he could work from slowly and deliberately, instead of relying on live models.

The results are lush, colorful paintings that show how his methods gave his brilliance free rein to create.

The White Cat is his best known cat painting. It's an early work, though, finished before his colorist abilities were well-developed. It's still shows a wonderful awareness of what it means to be a cat.

Later, Bonnard depicted his family's pets, then thriving in his country home. Most often, the dogs got the best of the show, but if you're lucky enough to spend as much time looking at Bonnard's work as I have , you find cats inside the tapestry-like pools of mingling colors too.

It's all in the nature of the beasts. Dogs are out there brazenly looking for attention while cats make you earn it. Or maybe they shared a belief that, in photography's earliest days, an image captured  sucked away their souls.

Cats certainly don't feel that way now. They must have gotten over their inhibitions. Almost every one of them I know is either a camera hog or indifferent in pursuit of something grander, like string.

After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard

Call After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard a corrective, a decision by cat artist Deborah Julian to right a wrong. It's neither thing, of course, but both sound so much more heady than the truth.

The "truth" is that Deborah began creating her Famous Artists' Cats as a way of easing domestic tensions.

Working as a fine art photographer, she battled in turf wars with her cats, George and Billy, retarding her ability to create, print, cut and mat her street photography. Both found her efforts so interesting, the needed to help or at least inspect the activity closely.

At the intersection with her education in Art History, she asked herself, what if famous artists had my cats?

A simple question launched a cat art project that has gone on to include multiple parodies on Matisse, Degas, Lichtenstein and Bonnard as well as Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Among them, After Lunch with Pierre Bonnard is one of the best.

Deborah makes full use of the richness in Bonnard's colorful palette as she finds a place at the table for Sam and Billy. The family has finished eating and gone off for strolls and naps, leaving the palace in the hands, excuse me, paws of the cats.

The color and composition in the picture are thrilling to look at. As wall art, it's as interesting to me as the non-parody artwork by Rauschenberg, Boborelus and Popoius we already have hanging in our home.

What kinds of art do you enjoy seeing on your own walls?

David Stone
Find all of my cat books, including Deborah Julian's illustrations, on my Amazon Author Page.